Plant & Works Engineering
The need for a Gen Z injection to meet digital-driven maintenance
Published:  04 January, 2024

Wendy Tai, Director of Product Marketing for ServiceMax, looks at why there is a need for a Gen Z injection to meet digital-driven maintenance challenges and asks whether the industry is doing enough to embrace and train a younger generation of technicians?

It has become de rigour to frame Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) as difficult, entitled and not really prepared to get their hands dirty. To be honest, it’s a little lazy. Gen Z, like many generations that have gone before, arrive at the workplace with an energy for new ideas and ways of working.

The big difference with Gen Z is that it is the first truly digital generation, but this also dovetails with new thinking around climate responsibilities, diversity, and inclusion. This is understandable, given their coming of age during a growing environmental crisis and social change. However, these values should not define their working habits. Gen Z has a lot to give and wants to work as much as the next generation.

The problem facing many organisations - and the field service industry is no different here - is how to attract this new generation of workers given the growing global competition for talent? For the field service industry this is of particular concern given its ageing workforce. According to research, almost three quarters of companies (73%) identify an ageing workforce as a potential threat to their field service operations. This is not just because organisations will be left with employment gaps, it’s all because of the changing nature of field service towards more digitally driven solutions.

While a degree of existing engineers can and will upskill, there are of course those that are not able to do so. As technologies advance, so the need for a more digitally driven field service team grows. Interestingly, the above research also found that over two thirds (67%) of companies feel that technology plays a key role in attracting new talent to field service - but the same could also be said for so many other organisations and industries.

What is becoming clear is that digital tools and capabilities are becoming a common denominator in attracting Gen Z, so by that score, any organisation that lacks digitally driven ways of working will not be able to compete for talent.

Servitisation and the lure of lifecycle management

A London School of Economics (LSE) report last year suggested that Gen Z has very specific expectations of working environments and digital tools. The reports says that these include “a lack of tolerance for latency in communication,” as well as “a frustration with legacy solutions and the inability to expediently source information.”

For field service teams, technology has enabled dramatic transformations, not just in ways of working but in how organisations interact with customers and their products. Servitisation – the shift towards selling outcomes rather than machines – needs advanced technologies to make it work. Predictive maintenance using AI analytics from IoT data sources, as well as the optimisation of service teams and spare parts delivery, are key to these new customer relationships.

Digital tools are increasingly at the heart of modern, dynamic service teams, enabling real-time analysis and reporting, communication, and organisation - and it is not stopping there. Here is an industry that is ripe for digital disruption and change, embracing automation and advanced analytics where possible, to not just improve performance but to also reduce costs and environmental impacts.

Servitisation is also at the heart of the thrust towards a circular economy. The value of repairing and re-using equipment keeps costs low and ensures productivity uptime. Servitisation is built on that premise, that organisations trust their suppliers to deliver, manage and ensure machine uptime and results. This is focused on a maintenance and repair culture and not a rip and replace culture.

Maintenance and service intelligence are also increasingly fed back into product design, improving how machines are built, with a leaning towards more modular components, for more economical and ecological maintenance. This is where data intelligence delivered through automation but also engineer observation, is seeing tangible results in reduced paper processes and machine waste.

While being a field service engineer may not be at the top of the wish list for many Gen Zers – to be honest, as Glassdoor research reveals it’s not at the top for non-Gen Zers either - the industry has a growing reputation for being forward thinking when it comes to carbon reduction and digital deployment.

Engineers are now the frontline operators for so many organisations, helping customers solve problems rather than just turning up to fix stuff. Service technologies have already enabled considerable change and that change is not about to stop. For Gen Z, this is surely hitting a sweet spot, while for field service teams, faced with an ageing and retiring workforce, Gen Z is a much-needed injection of digital talent.